PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: Well, I've got to get past Joel Fitzgibbon first and he joins us live now from Canberra. Joel, good to see you, thanks for your time as always this morning. So they're all on your turf. The Nats are on your turf at the moment, it's their second or their third visit or tour through the Hunter Region in the past five months. Are you worried about that or are you embracing the challenge?
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: Well, two things, Pete - I always enjoy it when the Liberal Party and the National Party is fighting one another. You know, that Coalition arrangement is one which I've often described as a form of constitutionally sanctioned cheating. And second point is we welcome the attention. And I'm happy that they are in the region looking and observing the things that we are achieving as local members, despite their underinvestment in our region. I mean, the coal mining industry is doing very well, despite COVID-19, our economy is more diverse than ever before. We have renewable energy projects popping up everywhere, and we're building manufacturing by building. I mean, when Labor was in power, we built the third rail track, so we could get more coal to port, more efficiently and more quickly, we built the Hunter Expressway so we get the workforce to the mines more efficiently and more safely. We built things like mining schools, so that we could develop the skills locally and give people an opportunity for that employment. Now, they've done none of that. Despite them ignoring us for eight years, we are getting on with the job.
STEFANOVIC: But coal is, it's on the way out for a lot of countries, a lot of places too and in particular the Hunter Region, you've got what eleven and a half thousand jobs give or take in the coal industry. Some 2000 have come off since 2012. So you're losing about 200 a year. What are you doing in that space? How do you stop that from reducing further given you know, you have got coal power plants, particularly in Victoria that are shutting up shop early.
FITZGIBBON: It's around 12,000 jobs directly but up to 75,000 jobs indirectly. But I just reject the proposition which has been constantly pushed by some in the extreme left that the coal mining industry has a limited future. It's just simply not true. 95% of the Hunter's coal goes to, not to power generation here in Australia, but to export markets, mainly in Asia. And everywhere throughout Asia, they are building new, highly efficient coal generators, including in Japan. So demand for both our metallurgical coal and our steaming coal will be strong for decades to come. And we have the highest quality coal in the world. It's currently attracting a very, very high price and we'll continue to provide it while ever there is demand for it. And that will be for a long, long time.
STEFANOVIC: Okay, you've got the Labor conference on today, Joel. It's going to be virtual for the first time, it's going to lack the usual fireworks. I have got to say, it sounds pretty dull. What are you going to make, how are you going to try and reverse that?
FITZGIBBON: Well, the best thing, Pete, is that speeches are limited to three minutes. That'll be somewhat of a relief in some circumstances.
STEFANOVIC: So is that why Labor's policy is down to 100 pages rather than Bill Shorten 300 pages?
FITZGIBBON: Well, I think it is important that we condense the document into something far more readable for people in the broader electorate. But the focus today and tomorrow will unequivocally be on jobs, job security, well paid jobs, and of course, the personal safety of people and their families. I think they will be the big issues at the next election. And that's what we'll mainly be talking about over the next couple of days.
STEFANOVIC: Okay, Albo's already, he's made his pitch. Some of the information has been released already this morning. It revolves around manufacturing - a $15 billion plan to boost jobs in manufacturing. The problem is the reason why so many manufacturing jobs have gone overseas is because wages are too high. So how are you going to reverse that?
FITZGIBBON: It is true that we've had a decline in manufacturing, not because energy prices have been so high, but because we lacked scale. It's because of our geography. And of course, we are a high cost country and so we should be. We want wages still relatively high and standards of living to be high. So we will identify those areas of manufacturing that might need some leveraging from government, we'll do so with a model which brings a high degree of economic credibility. This is about Labor intervening in a way which gets people over that investment hurdle and gives us the capability of retaining that expertise here in Australia, and allows us to continue to make things here in Australia, particularly those areas which we've seen are so vulnerable when our international borders have been cut off.
STEFANOVIC: Okay, Joel. Just finally, I know you're launching a book this afternoon, Hugh Poate's Failures of Command, I look forward to reading this actually. An important one for you to do.
FITZGIBBON: Oh, very important to me, given my defence background. This is a heart-rending story about three families who lost their boys in Afghanistan at the hands of Hekmatullah, a Taliban infiltrator in the Afghan National Army. But it's about the incident, which was arguably avoidable and the family's frustration as they sought answers, justice and closure. It's quite a controversial book and I think that you'll be hearing a bit more about it.
STEFANOVIC: Any words of advice, mind you, for Peter Dutton?
FITZGIBBON: Well, Peter now joins the Defence Ministers club. I wish him plenty of luck, because he'll need plenty of it.
STEFANOVIC: Alright, Joel Fitzgibbon, we're out of time. Appreciate your time, though, as always. Talk to you soon.
FITZGIBBON: My pleasure, Pete.